How Long Should You Stay Home With the Stomach Flu?

Stomach viruses are often incorrectly called "stomach flu." They are not related to influenza, but they still can be miserable. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, nausea, and weakness.

Stomach viruses usually keep you housebound. Sometimes, though, you may have lingering symptoms even though you're no longer vomiting. You may wonder how long you really need to stay home to keep from spreading the virus to others.

This question can be difficult for parents with sick kids. You may need to get back to work but aren't sure if your child is well enough to go to school.

This article looks at how long you should stay home with a stomach virus, how to recover quickly, and how long you might be contagious.

African American woman suffering stomach cramps - stock photo

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How Long to Stay Home

Stay home or keep your kids home for 24 hours to 48 hours after symptoms go away. This includes vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.

A child who is running a fever is contagious. Even without a fever, stomach viruses are very contagious. When you have symptoms, you can spread these viruses easily.

You may be tempted to send your child to school if they went all night without vomiting or diarrhea. Even so, it's important to wait a full 24 hours after the last episode. This is because symptoms could return. Symptoms are unlikely to return if they have been absent for 24 hours.

How to Recover Quickly

There are a few steps you can take to speed up your recovery. First, do not eat or drink right after vomiting. It is important to give your stomach time to rest after it empties its contents.

Wait at least 15 minutes after vomiting before you take even a small sip of water. Increase your intake of water by small amounts. This will ensure your body can handle the water without repeated bouts of vomiting.

Recovering quickly requires the right self-care. Once you are symptom-free for a full 24 to 48 hours, you can return to work or school.

Recap

Do not eat or drink right after vomiting. Wait at least 15 minutes, then take only small sips of water.

How Long Are You Contagious?

The true length of time you are contagious depends on which virus is causing your symptoms.

Two of the most common causes of "stomach flu"—norovirus and rotavirus—can be spread for up to two weeks after you've recovered. They also are contagious before symptoms appear. This means it can be difficult to avoid spreading them to others since you won't even know you're sick.

Frequent and correct handwashing is the best way to reduce the spread of the virus.

Summary

Stomach viruses are highly contagious. To prevent spread, stay home for 24 to 48 hours after your vomiting, diarrhea, and fever have gone away.

You can speed recovery by avoiding food or water immediately after vomiting. Wait at least 15 minutes and then take only small sips of water.

Stomach viruses may be contagious up to two weeks. This is why it's important to wash your hands often and correctly.

A Word From Verywell

The best way to decrease your chances of spreading or catching a stomach virus is to wash your hands often. This is especially true after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before and after eating.

A rotavirus vaccine is available for small children. The vaccine can help prevent this very serious cause of severe diarrhea in kids.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is stomach flu?

    Stomach flu has no relationship to influenza. Rather, it is a term popularly used to describe gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is usually caused by viruses such as rotavirus. It can also be caused by bacteria like Campylobacter and E. coli as well as certain types of fungus and parasites.

  • What are the symptoms of stomach flu?

    Stomach flu typically causes diarrhea and vomiting as well as abdominal cramping. Viral infections often include fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle pain. Bacterial infections can sometimes cause bloody stools.

  • How long does stomach flu last?

    Generally, the symptoms of gastroenteritis develop suddenly within one to five days of exposure. They usually resolve within a week.

  • How is stomach flu spread?

    Stomach flu is usually spread by the fecal-oral route. This means accidental ingestion of infected stool. This could happen when you consume contaminated food or water, touch contaminated objects or surfaces, or come into close contact with an infected person. Proper hand washing and the regular cleaning of surfaces can greatly reduce the risk.

  • How long is stomach flu contagious?

    The contagiousness of stomach flu can vary depending on the cause. Of the three most common causes:

    • Rotavirus is generally contagious two days prior to the onset of symptoms and up to 10 days after.
    • Campylobacter can be contagious from two to five days prior to the onset of symptoms and up to a week or more after.
    • Escherichia coli (E. coli) can be contagious three to four days prior to the onset of symptoms and up to 10 days after.
  • When should I call a doctor about stomach flu?

    Call a doctor or go to your nearest urgent care center if you have gastroenteritis and:

    • Cannot keep down fluids for more than 24 hours
    • Have a fever over 104 degrees F
    • Have been vomiting for more than two days
    • Have signs of severe dehydration
    • Have bloody stools
    • Have bloody vomit
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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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